By Sean Goforth
With dashed expectations of a return to normal life, the second year of COVID-19 has been a deadly and frustrating staccato of starts and stops. The silver lining, as it were, is that many continue to enjoy work-from-home. But also, it has proven a banner year for shrewd analysis of the BPO sector.
Throughout 2021, leading analysts from around the world have aided global firms and outsourcing executives with CX BPO insights on how the industry is responding to the pandemic. Now, as the fortunate among us look forward to the holidays with family and friends, these insights deserve revisiting. So, here are some of the most impressive pieces of analysis from the last year, broken down into two broad categories: talent and locations.
For all the hubbub around leading technologies, effective outsourcing still requires skilled human agents. Key analysts have drilled down on this with important research on how technology empowers CX agents.
In July, Steve Morrell at ContactBabel published an article that delved into AI applications in customer care. Phone calls remain the go-to channel for much of customer care. Yet, as the complexity of call volumes increases, call times have drifted ever higher in recent years. Morrell’s research explores how AI can provide the right insights to agents to help them more quickly address consumer inquiries, while still ensuring end-user satisfaction.
Ian Jacobs at Forrester emphasized a related point in a report on the use of the Waze app as an agent augmentation tool. Despite fantastic expectations surrounding AI and machine learning, human agents can use empathy in customer interactions; AI simply cannot. Jacobs’ report, co-authored with Daniel Hong and with input from Caleb Ewald, Hailey Colin and Rachel Birrell, shows how the wisdom of the crowds feeds the Waze app with current information about potholes, road outages and the like, and thus offers real-time augmentation capabilities that can be used by contact center agents.
The “Great Resignation” was the catchphrase of the year for the labor market. Stephen Loynd captured what this means for outsourcers in his essay “Employer Maximus: Win the Crowd.” Loynd runs TrendzOwl, where he focuses on the role of technological change in service delivery, which is especially pertinent in the domain of CX BPO. But, as the title of the essay hints, he regularly fuses history and humanist ideas to expose how technology is used (and at times abused) by people and enterprises.
Loynd’s essay stresses that employers can no longer take workers for granted. Agents have skills and know their worth. Cultivating talent goes beyond better pay, Loynd notes, but doing so will enrich both employers and society.
One popular way that outsourcers are capitalizing on this trend is by expanding operations with gig workers. In November, HfS research director Melissa O’ Brien highlighted the growing BPO/ITO offerings that rely on freelancers, including LiveXchange, Concentrix’s Solv, and Wipro’s Topcoder.
Some have likened this to the uberization of customer care. It is a development that Mark Hillary has chronicled over the past year on the CX Files podcast. Hillary’s podcast has helped thrash out the use of gig workers, of whom there are an estimated 57 million in the US alone, in the provision of virtual customer experience management.
Hillary dubs this “gig CX.” The potential of gig CX includes lower facility costs, tapping into a large talent pool of flexible and skilled workers, and managing seasonal variations in CX demand. These features and more are discussed between Hillary and McKinsey consultant Vinay Gupta, LiveXchange’s Terry Rybolt and NewAge Products’ Mahesh Raghuram in this June edition of the CX Files.
In Q1, the Ryan Strategic Advisory Front Office Omnibus Survey revealed South Africa as the most favored offshore destination among contact center decision-makers. A lot has happened since then, including protests in South Africa that led to brief service disruptions. Still, the country has a lot going for it, including an abundance of universities and a large English-speaking talent pool, as a discussion between Pro Progressio’s CEO Wiktor Doktór and veteran industry analyst Rod Jones made clear.
Remarkably, while many emerging locations have been shellacked from a drop in tourism, for some economies this is catalyzing a transition toward business services. Jamaica has blossomed into a dominant locale not just for nearshore delivery into the US but, as expansions by the likes of itel and Iterum Connections show, a full-service destination for service delivery to Canada and the UK.
Arguably, Central and Eastern Europe is the region that has gained the most traction as a business services region in 2021. With low taxes and a strong multilingual tradition, Georgia has gained favor in the European nearshore. Also, the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius has thrived over the past year. Everest Group analysts David Rickard, Anurag Srivastava and Ricky Sundrani highlighted Vilnius’ potential as both an engineering services and ITO hub in an October webinar.
The pandemic has both stoked inflation and stirred interest in promising new locations for outsourcers. These trends are likely to help relatively unknown outsourcing locations rapidly grow, provided they possess the core attributes of sound infrastructure, business-friendly governments and, above all, talented workforces.
Looking ahead to 2022
COVID-19 has accelerated technology shifts, by empowering contact center agents with AI for instance. It has also breathed life into other delivery modes, affording agents greater flexibility to work part-time or on a rotational basis between the office and home. And in tandem, upstart delivery locations have entered the scene as outsourcers recognize the need for a diversified delivery footprint.
Fortunately, these dramatic shifts are being carefully monitored. Thanks to clever analysts, outsourcers are better informed with the data and insights they need for a productive and prosperous 2022.